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Luck or skill? Pa. lawmakers debate fantasy sports

HARRISBURG - Are fantasy sports games of skill? Or are the outcomes largely influenced by chance, as in poker or blackjack?

HARRISBURG - Are fantasy sports games of skill? Or are the outcomes largely influenced by chance, as in poker or blackjack?

Those questions were the focus of a hearing Tuesday morning before Pennsylvania's House Gaming Oversight committee, as legislators debate whether to regulate the suddenly booming fantasy sports industry.

"There's questions again . . . about skill vs. chance. Is it betting? Is it gambling?" said committee chairman John Payne (R., Dauphin). "I don't care what you call it, we want to protect consumers."

With millions of players signing up for websites such as DraftKings or FanDuel, lawmakers in Pennsylvania have launched a debate about the potential to pass legislation that would run those currently unregulated games through casino websites - therefore classifying them as gambling, and allowing the state to regulate and tax them.

State Rep. George Dunbar (R., Westmoreland) is shaping such a bill, although both he and Payne cautioned that it is not quite ready to be presented for any votes.

The momentum comes amid a national push to examine the fantasy-sports industry, after reports surfaced that state and federal investigators were looking at whether employees of websites used inside information to gain an advantage.

Other states also have begun examining the potential for state regulations, including Nevada, Massachusetts, and New Jersey, where a legislative hearing was held Monday.

The New York attorney general on Tuesday ordered two fantasy-sports sites - DraftKings and FanDuel - to stop accepting bets in New York, saying the games constituted illegal gambling, the New York Times reported.

Fantasy-sports games allow players to select real-life athletes for a fake team roster, then earn prizes based on their results.

In Harrisburg, representatives from gambling- and sports-related industries testified Tuesday about the potential for laws involving the games.

John Pappas, executive director of the Poker Players Alliance, said that there were numerous similarities between the need to monitor table games and fantasy sports, such as ensuring for fair outcomes and aboveboard payouts.

"The parallels are strikingly similar," he said.

Others, such as Doug Sherman, chief counsel for the state Gaming Control Board, briefed lawmakers on the relevant laws and statutes that have helped shape the state of sports betting nationwide today.

Payne said after the hearing that he believed fantasy sports should be classified as gambling, and that it's important to enact laws that can protect wagerers, at-risk gamblers, and children.

While cautioning that a number of hurdles still exist - including the need to legalize general Internet gambling - he still believed the time was right to begin pushing for laws around the popular games.

"We need to look at this," he said. "It's out in front of us, instead of us [being] in front of it."